How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman (3 out of 5)

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I got this as an advance from the publisher. I picked it up several times before, but kept putting it back. Since I am on a tear with the reading, I picked it up again Thursday. And finished it Thursday night. It is nothing short of riveting. There are things that were picking at me then, and still are now, 48 hours after I finished it. Psychological thrillers seem to be the type of book I’m picking up more and more, so here’s another to add to that genre. 

Marta and Hector are going on many years of marriage, but the cracks are beginning to appear with more frequency. Their son Kylan has moved out and is now engaged to be married.  Both occurrences are enough to tilt Marta’s fragile eggshell mentality into cracked egg territory. She seems, throughout much of the book, as if she has an almost abnormal hold over her son (not of an incestuous nature, but definitely not normal). The further you get into the book and see what we think happened (It’s not actually established that the lurking shocker is truth or fantasy cooked up in Marta’s subconscious). Marta begins seeing visions of a young, blond haired girl who appears to be caught in a horrible situation of being held against her will in an underground bunker. Marta also begins questioning Hector’s behavior, administering of doubtful medication that makes her forget key parts of her present and past (for example, she cannot recall how she met him or how they came to be married, until after she stops taking the pills in secret. Then once her fog clears, it makes her even more certain that he’s up to no good), and general dialogue with her. Is Marta having flashbacks of some traumatic experience that scarred her, and perhaps propelled her into marrying Hector, even when she cannot remember how and when they met, much less their wedding. The only tenuous hold Marta has on sweet reality is their son. Kylan comes through as a guiding light for Marta through the book as much as he can. Eventually, the inevitable meeting with Katya, the fiancee, happens, and it’s a disaster. Marta semi-sabotages the dinner, makes Katya uncomfortable to the point of embarassment, angers her son with her behavior, and makes Hector question her mental stability. The reveal of their plans to have the wedding elsewhere, with Katya’s family, makes Marta even more unstable. She tries to get Kylan and Katya to stay, to no avail. Their departure makes the dam break. Marta remembers a string of events, coupled with her visions of the young blond girl, and she plots her escape. She remembers something of Hector, and confronts him. This leads to other reveals, and Marta is getting the hell out of there. The watershed with Hector leads to the resurgence of long-buried memories in Marta, and that delicate dam breaks. She lies to Hector about going to the market, leaves her wedding ring, takes all the money, and escapes. Naturally, Marta finds her guiding light and goes to it. This leads to another chain of events that end, well, in a manner I really didn’t see coming. That’s usually what you ask for in this sort of book, but I was left wanting more of a resolution.

My first bone of contention is that it’s never confirmed if Marta’s visions, suspicions, repressed memories, etc are really fact or if she imagined the whole thing. This sort of open-ended closure is not really closure. I got so mired in this book that I couldn’t wait to see the end. Then it came and I was left, for lack of a better phrase ,desperately wanting. (Apologies to Better Than Ezra for stealing that.) If I had some idea if it was real or if it was Memorex, perhaps I would not have had such a hard time swallowing the eventual end of the book.

Second, you are given that false sense of hope that Marta is going to be okay, based on her behavior and dialogue at Kylan and Katya’s wedding. This is, of course, a coup de grace to the author’s plot development. I was totally buying it. And I love that. However, when the end comes, I was stunned. Gutted. Like a fish at a Belgium chocolate market. I didn’t see that coming, and it made me sad. It seemed like there is no real resolution and the only answer, at least to Marta, is what happens. Perhaps the decision was made with peace of mind in her sights, but I was deeply unsettled by it. Worse yet, if what I suspected was the real story of Marta/Hector/blond girl was the case, then the bad guys really did win. Justice was not served. Evil conquered good.

Make no mistake, Emma Chapman is a kick-ass author. I loved the book. I loved her writing style. I loved the family dynamic illustrated here. The characters were fleshed out and extremely identifiable. Marta, a disillusioned mother with a crumpling marriage and a houseful of secrets that darken her life. Hector, her slightly sinister husband with supposed good intentions. Kylan, their son, who is a bright, idealistic young man trying to grow up and away from his mother’s slightly ironclad hold on him. Even Katya, whom we meet briefly, a girl crazy in love with her boyfriend and a little more than fearful of her boyfriend’s possibly batshit crazy mom. These characters are quite real reading the story, and that made it all the easier to really plow through this book in three hours. Because that’s all it took for me to read it. Chapman is a great writer, and I look forward to reading her next book. The end really took it out of me, and I guess that’s the mark of a true psychological thriller. That it is, and Hector, for the record, did a little more than creep me out. I just lost it at the end. I couldn’t buy into it completely, and that, and only that, is the reason I leave this one at 3 stars. 

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~ by generationgbooks on August 31, 2013.

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